Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mission Cookbook: Chicken Piccata

Quite some time ago (I mean like... 3 years?) I gave Steve a coupon that allowed him to choose whatever meal he wanted and I would cook it. He chose chicken piccata over angel hair pasta with fresh green beans. Time passed... like... 3 years... and I finally got around to cooking it.

Like... 3 months ago. And I'm just now posting it. GO ME.

At any rate - without any further delay - I present to you...

Mission Cookbook: Chicken Piccata

Part of the reason I never got around to cooking this was (I think) a subconscious avoidance. The truth is that I'm not a giant fan of overly-tangy-citrus flavors when they're cooked in my food. I don't mind them in a lemonade or some sort of sweet flavor, but when it comes to savory dishes I tend to avoid it. I'm the chick that never EVER squeezes the lemon over her seafood. The rest of it was that we were trying to lose weight, and buttery, saucy, dredged chicken over starchy pasta isn't really diet friendly. Once we hit goal - it was time for me to get past my citrus issue and get to cooking!

We scoured the cookbooks we have in-house and decided on the version of the recipe featured in our Cooking with Mickey cookbook. Say what you want about the kitchy-ness of Disney, they make some DARNED good food; if you don't believe me, I can give you a list of places I'll demand you try in order to prove you wrong. At any rate, I gathered my ingredients and got to work.

First things first: I must give yet another shout-out to my Le Creuset Dutch Oven. This thing is freaking amazing. I use it constantly when I'm cooking for things as simple as mashed potatoes to all sorts of complicated dishes... like chicken piccata. Check out this live-action shot of the dredged chicken frying away in the Le Creuset. It is seriously my favorite piece of kitchen equipment ever.

Can I even begin to tell you how awesome it is to deglaze this pot and get all the brown bits up? Once I hit the pan with the white wine and chicken stock it came right up - not an ounce of flavor was missed. Also, I was surprised at how simple it was to make the piccata. I was envisioning some super complicated process of sauce making and it wasn't bad at all. Truthfully, making the dish was pretty fun!

Now for the taste: I am pleased to announce (mostly for myself) that while the flavor was definitely distinctly lemon, it wasn't so bad that I wanted to pucker my face off and ignore the dish. Truthfully, it was quite good. The recipe in the book also allowed the chicken to maintain its moisture and it was one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had in my home. The angel hair pasta was the perfect choice to pair with the delicate nature of the chicken & sauce, and any green vegetable with a sweetness to it (think peas or green beans) are a wonderful compliment as well.

When I told Steve I was finally writing this post, he said "Oh THAT? That was fantastic!" so I think that it won over my main food critic as well. I would definitely make this dish again; I think that it's one that is great for an inside date night (which is what we had it for) or having another couple over for dinner. If anyone has this cookbook and has thought about the recipe - don't think anymore. Just make it. It's simple and delicious.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Open Door Policy

I love inviting people into my home.

I was reminded of this today when I read a post over at the (in)Courage blog called "Confessions of a Hospitality Hater". The very first line really struck me; the author (Heather) wrote:

"Why do I often close my doors, staying hidden behind the excuses: The children are loud, the house is a mess, the food is basic, and growing up my family never had anyone over?"

Why did this opening line particularly strike me? Because I am so very much the exact opposite of that. Show up unexpected at my door? It's fine, just give me a second to brush my hair and throw on some deodorant so I don't stink. Then be prepared for me to offer you drinks, popcorn, leftovers, a seat on our couch, porch, deck... doesn't matter to me. I might "apologize" for a messy floor, a couple of dishes in the sink, or the fact that I forgot to clean the bathroom this week... but truthfully?

I'm glad you're here. Or there. Whatever the right word is.

If you are closer to the personality of Heather of "Confessions of a Hospitality Hater", I wanted to encourage you a bit. God does call us to be hospitable and keep our doors open to our neighbors. In the mentioned post, she mentions checking on the verses below:

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 
Matthew 5:13-16, The Message

The last two sentences - "Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others you'll prompt people to open up with God..." - that's really what being hospitable is all about, isn't it? There is an old saying that everyone has heard: "Home is where the heart is" and it is SO incredibly true. When you let someone into your home, you are opening up your heart to them as well. You are most comfortable in your own home, even when there is a complete stranger or a new friend there. There is something so incredibly intimate about having someone over for even something so simple as a cup of tea.

Anyways - I love having people over and I recognize that not everyone is completely comfortable or knows how to be prepared to be hospitable even if they want to be. So... inspired by the "Confessions of a Hospitality Hater" post, I wanted to submit of my own tips. Some of these are sort of repeats of Heather's worded differently - but the message is still there;

- Always have a good stock of drinks on-hand. You can always order pizza, subs, or Chinese food if people are hungry, but drinks are difficult to get on short notice. My husband and I always have seltzer and water in the fridge and tea and coffee ready to brew. 

- Try to keep something quick to make up on-hand. Some people keep frozen cookie dough, I keep popcorn that I can make in the air-popper.  Heather mentions that the food you serve does NOT need to be complicated and I can't stress that enough either. Remember - people are there for you and your company, not your food.
- Don't worry if your house is not in perfect condition and do NOT apologize for it. Every time I've been in someone else's house I always think it's incredibly cleaner than mine and they think it's the messiest house ever. As long as you have a place for your guests to sit - even if you have to move toys or yesterday's newspaper - you're golden.

- Feeling stressed? Frazzled? Have company coming over or wanting to invite someone over? Go into your bathroom, take 3-5 slow, deep breaths. You have no idea how much this act of opening your lungs calms your soul and opens your heart. It's truly one of the best releases ever and a trick I've used a few times myself before people have come over for a visit if I've been in a bad place.

God put us on this planet to love one another, and opening our homes is an incredibly simple way that we can do this. Once love and friendship is in our homes, it's difficult for it to find its way out. So many memories are made with friends, family, and other guests that come through our homes that will make you laugh, cry, or smile in the years to come. Believe me when I tell you that it is so worth it when you open your doors to people to come in and hang out in your home and your heart.

So go ahead - take a deep breath, put a 12-pack of soda in your fridge, and invite someone over. And next time you're in my neck of the woods - stop by and say hi.

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.
1 Peter 4:9, NLT

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: "Max on Life"

OK - how many Christians out there have a million questions about living life as Jesus calls us to live while taking into consideration all of life's complications, caveats, nuances, joys, sorrows, etc?

Great - now that your hands are up, let me tell you about Max Lucado's book "Max on Life" because my guess is that it will come in handy for you as you work through those questions. Max and his team receive in hundreds or even thousands of questions via email, personal letter, conversations - you name it - about this crazy life and what Scripture says about how to live, how to decide what to do in certain situation, how to navigate relationships, and dozens of other things that you probably haven't even thought of. The book highlights just about 200 different questions that Max has encountered over the years and cover topics from navigating your kids to divorce to faith struggles to heaven and hell.

Overall, the book is fantastic. Max Lucado has a way of taking Scripture and making it applicable to our lives anyways, but taking people's questions and pulling up specific verses or stories that are relevant to the topic he's addressing make it that much more translatable to our every day lives. The way that the book is set up lets you either read it cover to cover or easily search for that specific question that your heart is yearning to have answered. The book is really a miniature encyclopedia that covers so many of the questions that new Christians, seasoned Christians, or people just looking to exploring their faith may have and are afraid to ask.

The book is incredibly encouraging; at the end of the book, Lucado leaves his readers with the most important thing anyone seeking answers could ask for - HOPE. He reminds his readers again and again and again with every answer that God loves us, that He sent His son to die for us, and no matter what your situation is there is hope to be found in that redemption. As if that level of encouragement isn't enough, he then speaks to anyone out there in his audience who may dabble in writing in any way, shape, or form. If there's a way that Max can encourage his readers with his life experience and wisdom - he does it in this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has questions regarding their faith in Christ; odds are Max has an encouraging, hope-filled response for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Macho Man & Memories

I normally wouldn't feature a celebrity's death as a blog post, but I noticed on someone's Google talk status this afternoon that Randy "Macho Man" Savage died today. No, I didn't know the guy. From what I read he was a decent fellow and my hearts and prayers go out to his wife & family - especially to his wife who was in the car with him when he died.

Like I said, I didn't know the guy. And by "the guy" I mean Randall Poffo (his real name) because let's face it: wrestlers are actors. We don't know their lives outside the screen typically speaking, and so - I didn't know him, just his character. They give a lot of their bodies to give entertainment to their audience, and Randy Savage was one of a dying breed (in my opinion) who weren't just muscle and actually had a goofy character. The wrestlers of that time knew the genre was ridiculous and hammed it up quite a bit with their characters.

Wait... here's where confession time comes in, right? I grew up in a home where we watched wrestling. I actually enjoyed it well into my college years and my college pals and I even gave each other nicknames that were spin-offs of wrestlers' names. Me? I was The Rack. No, don't ask. It's better off that way. But we did - we watched "Monday Night Raw" every week until it started to get crappy. When did that happen (and yes, I know some of you are thinking it was always crappy)? Early in the 2000's. Things started to be less goofy & more sex/sexy. It made it crappy. It was right around when Mick Foley left, actually.

Mick Foley in a typical pose.

Mick Foley is probably my favorite wrestler of all time because he didn't mess around, he's a family man, and it was more than a job for him. It was a passion. Don't believe me - read both of his autobiographies. They're entertaining for sure and if nothing else show the heart of a man who was pursuing his passion and providing for his family at the same time. Great reads, especially the first one - "Have a Nice Day". One of the greatest matches of all time was Mick Foley and the Undertaker - Hell in a Cell. And actually... well... you know what, read the book. It's in there.

Anyways - Randy Savage. Most people know him from the "Slim Jim" commercials. But I remember being a little kid sitting around our lunch on a Saturday afternoon before going outside to play, hovered around a little black & white TV watching the Macho Man, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Bret Hart, and the like. I remember my mom making us popcorn for us on the nights we didn't have school the next day and wrestling came on. She hated/hates it - but got a kick out of us kids goofing around watching it with my stepdad. When it became apparent that my brother & I used to get into the plot lines (yes, there are plot lines... they're about as deep as a typical afternoon soap opera, but there are plot lines), my parents would record any of the Pay Per Views they would spring for.

Here's the thing - and here's why I'm posting this. In the summer of 1991, I was almost 11 and my brother was 8. This was at the height of my childhood wrestling fandom, as it were. We had been following the plot of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth (who ended up marrying in real life well before this all happened and ended up divorced a year later... anyways) and desperately wanted to watch SummerSlam that year.

Why? Because he was going to propose. Seriously, guys. And they were going to have a wrestling wedding. We begged and begged - and my parents ordered the Pay Per View and taped it for us - yes, I said taped. Like on VHS. We didn't have DVR's back in "those days". The next night after dinner we were allowed to throw in the tape and watch the entire thing unfold. And... well... really you have to watch it to see (and really, it's only 30 seconds, just watch):

So for WEEKS... maybe even MONTHS or YEARS... it was quoted in our house. "ELIZABETH? ELIZABETH? WILL YOU MARRRRRY ME?" in that Macho Man voice of his. In fact, every once in a while it'll pop up in the back of my head and I'll chuckle to myself. The memories of an 8-year-old Jim Cochrane walking around the house saying it just crack me up to think about.We would take Barbie dolls and re-enact it with his Macho Man doll and then follow it up with ridiculous doll wrestling matches with Barbie-Elizabeth cheering them on.

At any rate... I know I can't be the only one out there with great memories around ridiculous things like wrestling matches on TV. Just sayin'.

So Mr. Poffo - thanks for the memories, the ridiculous outfits, and whatever else you added to the wrestling entertainment industry. I hope that your friends & family have many fond memories of your time here on earth. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Did They?

Last week I traveled out to the Mid-West area for a customer conference for work. Whenever I travel alone, I always try to strike up conversations with people so as to not become bored or look like a stuck-up hermit. Besides that, you never know what you can glean from another person in terms of what an area is like, a good place to get some food, or maybe that person just needed to talk.

I had three conversations last week with people that left me wondering... did they? 

The first was at dinner at a restaurant called Mangia Mangia in Downtown Kalamazoo. I was enjoying some vegetable-type dish and some rustic bread to soak up the sauce while playing "Words with Friends" on my phone. At the table next to me were three women who were enjoying some appetizers and drinks before heading out to a movie.
I overheard that one of them would be heading to Walt Disney World the following week for work and that they would be spending some time in Downtown Disney. Because I wanted to write a Yelp review for the place was eating, I had my notebook handy so I tore a piece of paper out and wrote down the information for my favorite place there - Raglan Road. Before they left, I excused myself into their conversation to pass the information along to her. She seemed genuinely excited, and both she and her co-worker/friend agreed that their other co-worker who would be going on the trip would be "pumped" about going there.

So I wonder... did they end up going? Did they enjoy it?

The second was in my taxi-cab on the way to the airport. I've never had a friendly cab driver, so when the fellow who picked me up was nice I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation. In the course of that conversation, I found out that he used to work for the railroad repairing and testing the rails to ensure they were safe for trains to travel on. The problem was that it took him away from his son, so he left that line of work and somehow ended up driving taxi cabs. He has two 2-year degrees - one in culinary arts and one in welding. He'd like to be using his welding degree, but the one job he's been able to find posted did not pay what the degree is worth and was for a company that clearly did not take pride in their product.
I asked if he'd checked a local aerospace company (our customer that I was in town for the conference for) to see if they had any opportunities for a welder with that high-level of credential. I know this company takes a lot of pride in what they do, so they probably would pay good money for a good welder. He seemed like he was interested and appreciated the idea, even mentioning that he would check it out. When I wrote down my email address so that he could email me the receipt from my cab fare charge, I added a note in parentheses to make sure to check them out. When I left the cab, he shook my hand and thanked me for the conversation - something a cab driver has never done.

So I wonder - did he end up checking out that company for welding jobs? If he did, will it work out?

The last one was while I was waiting for my connecting flight back to Boston at O'Hare in Chicago. Across from me sat a woman and her son - probably about the same age as my mom and me - engaged in conversation. At one point she stopped and asked me if I'd ever been to Boston, to which I replied that I grew up in the area just about 30 minutes north. She asked what the best place to get seafood was, where the "Cheers bar" was, and what they should do with only 3 days in the city - they had never been.
I texted my husband and between the two of us I gave them a whole bunch of suggestions of places they could go to or try; they were staying at the Seaport Harbor Hotel, so they were in a good position for walking around the city and exploring. We got on the plane, they were 2 rows behind me so as I got off the plane I told them that I wished they had a good time and they thanked me for all the tips.

So as I walked down the jetway I wondered - did they find "good seafood"? Did they enjoy the Boston that I love so much? 

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I am grateful for the fact that I was given the opportunity to reach out to people. Maybe the tips I gave the people traveling to Florida or Boston were helpful in finding a good place to eat or hang out, and maybe the taxi driver reached out to the company I told him about and he'll be able to get work welding like he wants to do. Maybe I made a difference, maybe I didn't, who knows.

What I do know is that in talking to people like that, it's a small way that I can spread some love and kindness in the world. Don't be shy - next time you're out in the world by yourself, chat with the person in line behind you, offer to hold a door for a person or carry their groceries, talk to the person next to you in the doctor's office or restaurant waiting area.

You never know whose life you'll touch.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Knit One...

I'm having one of those seasons where I really feel like God is trying to drill something into my head. For the last couple of weeks, I feel like no matter where I turn, the following verses keep appearing:

13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well. 
- Psalm 139:13-14
Sitting in Financial Peace University last week for our last class: there it was, out of Dave Ramsey's mouth, with an added visual of a grandmother sitting in a chair knitting or crocheting.

Looking over some of the things I've lost track of in my Google reader: there it was as a Bible Gateway verse of the day.

Youth group? It was in the notes of the message that Elyse delivered last week (and I'm sure in her message as well, but I had to miss group for a business trip).

I'll admit... I have no idea why this is seeming to become a theme in my life right now, this bit of scripture. All I know is that it keeps appearing recently... and I have a feeling it won't be quitting any time soon. Again - I have no idea why God is pressing me towards these verses, but I know what I need to do with them.

Last year I was at a Living Proof Ministries event and Beth Moore talked to the room full of 2500 women about what it means to cherish. What it means to be treasuring things in our hearts and keeping them close to us. Beth highlighted two times specifically when Mary observed a situation and treasured it and held it close to her heart, both in Luke chapter 2.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 
(Luke 2:19, after the shepherds spread word of Jesus' birth.)

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 
(Luke 2:51, after Jesus is found as a teenager in the temple after his parents had been looking for Him for 3 days)

Did Mary know why she needed to treasure these things? No. She just knew her Son was special.

Did Mary treasure them and keep them close to her anyways? Were the meaning of these things revealed as time progressed? Absolutely - on both counts. 

I have no idea why God is sending me these verses that David wrote so long ago. I have no idea why they are present in my life right now, at this time, while the events and things that are going on are going on. But I know they're there. I feel that these words' presence is incredibly intentional.

So I pray that God will reveal His plan for me in His time. I pray that I can keep these words close. I file them away in my treasure file, along with a few other moments that I've felt that nudging about. I pray I'll have patience while whatever it is that He's got going on works out. 

I've never liked waiting for surprises.

I trust in His will for me, I trust that He will reveal His plan. His beautiful and wonderfully made plan for beautiful and wonderfully made me. 

Pilate: Powerful, Pragmatic Pawn of Providence

About a month or so ago, I shared some thoughts* I had while reading through the scripture regarding Pilate's condemnation of Jesus. Today I was going through my Google reader and was struck by this post from the Desiring God Blog. It's an "imagine if" type of entry reflecting on what a conversation between Pilate and Procula might have been like after the crucifixion. I encourage you to read through it and share your thoughts either on the page of the post or in my comments below.

Pilate: Powerful, Pragmatic Pawn of Providence

How would you have felt if you were Pilate when he heard the news of Christ's rising from the grave?

*For Reference: 
- In Pilate's Shoes, Part 1
- In Pilate's Shoes, Part 2 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I apologize for not reporting back sooner and letting you all know how the fundraising went for our youth group. Have you ever had one of those life seasons where things are incredibly busy and before you know it... a whole bunch of time goes by? That's about where I'm at right now.

At any rate - I don't know if it was a function of my blog post or other publicity about the fundraising site, but our group was able to raise $2,035 of the $12,500 needed for the trip via the online fundraising tool which is just absolutely amazing. If you read this post and donated - I want to thank you so much from the bottom of my heart and the other leaders' hearts and our students' hearts. Your generosity means the world to us.

That said... we did have one person who left a comment - Paul! I've talked with Paul who will get his choice of the prizes that were donated, and as soon as he decides he'll be getting his goodies.

Having said that... yes, Paul won the giveaway, but at the end of the day he's not the only winner. Our students who have less financial burden on the trip because of the generosity of a few people are winners. Our leaders who will get to go to the Bahamas and experience leading students on a missions trip are winners. The people who are living day in and day out at All Saints Camp that will benefit from the good of our team and the other teams working with Next Step Ministries - they are the REAL winners.

So... THANK YOU for your support. It has been absolutely amazing to see how God has used His people to provide for this trip. It's abundantly clear that this is in His will for our students to experience.